Canon Powershot G3 X Review
The Canon Powershot G3 X is a premium ultra-zoom with a relatively large 20 megapixels 1" CMOS sensor. This one offers an unmatched 25X optical zoom, equivalent to 24-600mm with a moderately typical F/2.8 aperture at the wide-end which dim down to a respectable F/5.6 at the long end.
The G3 X is aimed at prosumers with a high number of external controls, including dual control-dials plus a smoothly-rotating ring around the lens barrel. Uncommonly for a fixed-lens camera, this Powershot is fully weather-sealed. While it does not offer a viewfinder, an optional EVF which mounts on the hot-shoe is available. There is a large 3.2" touchscreen LCD which tilts upwards 180° for framing.
This Powershot boasts plenty of photographic features, including bracketingfor exposure and focus, plus csutom white-balance with fine-tuning. It also records full 1080p HD video at 60 FPS with stereo audio input and supports a headset to monitor sound during filming.
This digital camera review takes a look at the ergonomics, usability, image quality and performance of the Canon Powershot G3 X.
Canon Powershot G3 X Features
- 20 Megapixels 1" CMOS sensor
- 3:2 Aspect-Ratio
- ISO 125 - 12800 sensitivity-range
- Auto ISO, 400-12800 limit
- JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW Output
- 25X Ultra-Wide-Angle optical zoom
- Optical image stabilization
- 24 - 600mm equivalent focal-length
- F/2.8 - 5.6 Maximum aperture
- F/11 Minimum aperture
- 5cm Minimum focus distance at wide-angle
- 85cm Minimum focus distance at telephoto
- Built-in 3-stop ND filter
- Framing-Assist function
- PATM Exposure modes
- 1/2000s - 30s Shutter-speed, plus Bulb
- Exposure-Compensation, ±3 EV, 1/3 EV steps
- Flash-Compensation, ±2 EV, 1/3 EV steps
- Manual Flash Exposure, 3 levels
- Multi-Segment, Center-Weighed & Spot metering
- Central or AF-point linked Spot metering
- Fixed 1/3 EV exposure steps
- Automatic, Preset and Custom WB
- WB fine-tuning, 19-steps along 2-axis
- High ISO Noise Reduction, 3 levels
- 10 Built-in Color modes, 2 B&W modes
- Adjustable Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Red, Green, Blue & Skin Tone, 5 steps each
- 16:9, 3:2 & 1:1 Cropped aspect-ratios
- Optional Dynamic Range Correction
- Optional Shadow Correction
- Optional HDR Capture
Focus & Drive
- 5.9 FPS Drive, JPEG Only, Unlimited
- Self-Timers: 2s, 10s & 1-10 shots @ 0-30s
- AF-S, AF-C, DMF or MF focus
- Contrast-Detect autofocus, 2 area sizes
- Focus Bracketing, 3 frames, 3 step sizes
- Optional Automatic MF-Refinement
- Optional Touch-Focus
- Optional MF-Assist
- Optional Focus-Peaking
- Optional AF-Assist lamp
- Optional Face-Detection AF
- 1920x1080 @ 60 FPS 16:9 HD Video
- Auto or Manual Exposure
- MPEG-4 Codec
- Built-in stereo microphone
- Stereo audio input minijack
- Stereo audio output minijack
- Optional Wind-Filter
Viewfinder & Displays
- 3.2" Touchscreen LCD, 1.6 megapixel
- 100% coverage
- Tilting, 180° upwards
- Digital-Level, single-axis
- Optional Blink-Detection
- Optional Night-Display
- Optional EVF via Hot-Shoe
Body & Construction
- Dual Control-Dials, plus Lens-Ring
- Direct Exposure-Compensation dial
- Built-in flash, 6.8m (W) - 3.4m (T) reach
- Standard Hot-Shoe
- Built-in WiFi
- Metal tripod mount
- 1080i HDMI output
- USB 2.0 connectivity
- SDXC memory card slot
- Proprietary Lithium-Ion battery
Ergonomics - How easy is it to handle?
The Canon Powershot G3 X is a prosumer ultra-zoom with efficient manual-controls and a highly capable feature set. While an EVF is optional, the G3 X provides a professional-grade weather-sealed body with dual control-dials, plus a lens ring which can be used as a third control-dial or as a focus-ring.
The main body of this ultra-zoom is rectangular with two gentle slopes to lower top controls towards the grip. It has a narrow but relatively deep grip with a marked indentation to support the substantial weight of this camera. Most of the camera feels very solid safe for upper hinges of the LCD allow it to fold upwards. They are rather thin with some wiggle which is less than confidence-inspiring. The rest is quite sturdy, even the battery-compartment door and the one covering connectors for a wired-remote, USB and HDMI. Unusually, the latter door is located on the grip-side of the G3 X.
The lens barrel is broad and made of metal with a smooth black finish. A 1½" wide plastic lens-ring rotates very smoothly around the barrel. While it feels like a zoom-ring, it unfortunately cannot take that function, even as fly-by-wire. This is really too bad as it could have made zooming much more natural and precise. Canon may be able to add this as a firmware upgrade we hope. The ring functions very well to focus manually which is possible after pressing the MF button on the outer side of the lens barrel. A second button, higher-up on the barrel, engages the Zoom-Assist function which temporarily zooms out to help framing at long focal-lengths.
The Canon G3 X is remarkably well-balanced. It serves best to hold it with both hands for stability though. When powered on, the lens extends less than one inch from the barrel which is equivalent to an ultra-wide 24mm lens. Zooming in, it extends linearly three inches which gives the same field-of-view as a super-telephoto 600mm lens on a full-frame camera. This is an impressive 25X magnification considering the size of this camera and its relatively large 1" sensor with roughly a 2.7X crop-factor.
The layout of controls on this ultra-zoom is sensible yet cramped in several places and without optimum usability, as will be detailed further down in this review. Starting with the top-plate from the left, there is a popup flash with a hot-shoe aligned with the optical center of the lens. This hot-shoe has a standard form-factor and adds electrical contracts under its front edge. These are used to connect an optional EVF.
Next to the hot-shoe, there is a busy mode-dial with a whopping 13 positions. All the usual PASM exposure-modes are all there, including Program-Shift in P and Bulb in M, plus:
- Hybrid Auto: A fully automatic mode which locks all settings. Turning the EC dial does not adjust exposure either. It produces a still image plus a 5 second full 1920x1080 @ 30 FPS video of the action preceding the shutter-release.
- Fully Auto: Fully automatic with two added options: Automatic Continuous Drive and Hg Lamp Correction. The former determines based on subject movement if shooting should be continuous or not. The latter adjust AWB to correct for the strong cast left by Mercury-Vapor lamps.
- Creative: Automatic mode which applies an image-processing effect which is selected via the front control-dial.
- Sports: Auto mode optimized for capture of fast moving subjects, defaults to continuous shooting but can be single-shot instead.
- Scene: Regroups 6 Scene modes into one position. The Camera menu is used to select among various Scene modes.
- Effects: Applies a different set of effects. The HDR mode is hidden among the options here.
- Movie: Regroups Program and Manual movie mode into one position. There is Short-Clip option which oddly offers a slightly wider field-of-view.
- Two Custom modes: Each custom mode can store settings all settings, including customization to control-dials and the lens ring with a choice of PASM exposure-mode.
There are quite a few Exposure Modes on the G3 X, although their organization is somewhat confusing and inconsistent. Practically speaking, the intended audience for this digital camera is unlikely to stray often from the known and predictable PASM modes, with perhaps the exception of video which can record full 1080p HD video at up to 60 FPS using the MPEG-4 codec.
Still on the top plate, there is simple power button, flush with the surface which prevents accidental activation. Next to it, there is a dedicated EC compensation dial, labelled ±3 in 1/3 steps. Most creative and effect modes ignore it. Ahead, at the front right corner of the camera, there is a Video-Record button, also flush with the surface which effectively prevents inadvertently starting to film. This button would be useless if it could not be reassigned since there is a dedicated Video mode which is the only way to preview proper framing for video, even with the correct aspect-ratio selected, the angle-of-view is slightly cropped.
The Video-Record button can be assigned one of 23 options to choose from, including Video, Not-Assigned and much more useful ones like ND Filter, ISO, DR Correction, WB, Custom WB, Self-Timer, Metering and AF-L. Three more buttons offer the same set of functions, except for Video Record. Self-Timer, Metering, ND Filter and AF-L notably have no direct controls so are good candidates for any of these buttons, as is ISO whose assigned control is awkward.
The final control directly on the top of the G3 X is the front control-dial. It has good detents although it is rather flush with the surface, making it difficult to turn with gloves on which is odd for a weather-sealed camera. In Manual stills and video modes, the front control-dial works in conjunction with the rear control-dial, described later in this review page. Their assignment is reversible with either one being able to control aperture or shutter-speed. In other modes, the dials are much more customizable:
|Mode||Front Control-Dial||Rear Control-Dial||Lens Control-Ring|
|P||ISO, DR Correction, Shadow Correction, WB Fine-Tuning, Aspect-Ratio, Step Zoom or N/A||ISO, DR Correction, Shadow Correction, WB Fine-Tuning, Aspect-Ratio, Step Zoom or N/A||ISO or N/A|
|A||Aperture||ISO, DR Correction, Shadow Correction, WB Fine-Tuning, Aspect-Ratio, Step Zoom, Aperture or N/A||Aperture, ISO or N/A|
|S||Shutter-Speed||ISO, DR Correction, Shadow Correction, WB Fine-Tuning, Aspect-Ratio, Step Zoom, Shutter-Speed or N/A||Shutter-Speed, ISO or N/A|
|M||Aperture or Shutter-Speed||Always the one not set to the front dial.||Aperture, Shutter-Speed or ISO|
There is certainly a high amount of customizability available here yet it appears not completely well thought out. With effectively three control-dials, when including the lens ring, there could be more efficient assignments. For Manual mode, obviously both control-dials are put to the right use. The lens-ring can be used to control ISO but it is highly accident-prone because the ring rotates smoothly and so that assignment was disabled quickly during the review. Given than ISO has a control and can be assigned to another one, it would have been ideal to allow the lens ring to operate as fly-by-wire zoom-ring.
Program mode is clearly missing a Program-Shift option. At least either dial can be assigned to adjust ISO. The front one is more comfortable and can turn P into a Sensitivity-Priority mode which is extremely useful. One can complement this by setting the rear dial to DR Correction which affects available sensitivities. It is normal to remove the lowest ISO to boost dynamic-range by 200%, yet inexplicably it also removes the highest ISO too.
Aperture and Shutter priority modes are quite consistent. It makes perfect sense to use the comfortable front control-dial to set the primary parameter. This leaves plenty of options for the rear control-dial, with ISO being the ideal choice. Again, it is too bad the lens-ring cannot be tied to the zoom.
Right at the top of the grip, there is a standard two-stage shutter-release with short travel and a soft halfway point. It can make it quicker to capture a shot but makes it easily possible to release the shutter accidentally. A rotating zoom controller surrounds the shutter-release. This is the only way to zoom which works in all modes. The optical zoom works in fine steps which makes framing fairly accurate after some back and forth adjustment since the lens moves relatively quickly.
There is a mechanical latch to release the built-in flash on the left side of the camera. Pushing the flash back down locks it in place. Every other control can be found at the back of the G3 X which is dominated by a rather large 3.2" touchscreen LCD. It has a class-leading resolution of 1.6 megapixels. It is extremely sharp with a fast refresh-rate. It is Exposure-Priority in Manual mode and while the shutter-release is held half-pressed in all other modes. This is an acceptable behavior which allows the resulting exposure to be easily checked.
There are 4 very small and flat buttons which are hard to press scattered around the upper edge of the camera. These are difficult to use normally and impossible press with gloves on. Topmost, just under the Mode-Dial, there is a WiFi button labelled with a smart-phone icon. This one activates the WiFi system with the last used settings. From there, the operation can be cancelled and other settings may be chosen. The G3 X works as a network access-point or client.
At the upper-right corner of the LCD, there is tiny configurable Shortcut button. It can be assigned any of the same 21 functions mentioned above, just like the Video-Record button except without the default option of the latter. Self-Timer is a good candidate here since it is a useful function which is rarely pressing to use. The other two are tilted sideways along the right edge of the camera. Those will be obvious to Canon users but the asterisk locks exposure (AE-L) until the shutter is released or until it is pressed again, which is usually not the case with most Canon cameras. The button labelled with the grid-like icon activates focus-point selection.
During Playback mode, the asterisk button prompts for image deletion. Awkwardly, one can only confirm by using the rear control-dial or 4-way controller, both located on the same side of the camera body. It would have been more efficient to allow the front control-dial to make the selection between Cancel and Erase.
Further down, the Playback and Menu buttons operate just as expected. The G3 X is Record-Priority and is ready to shoot with a quick tap of the shutter-release. It can also be powered on directly into Playback mode by holding down the Playback button. The Menu button brings up the menu on the last page used. Menu navigation is efficient yet slightly unusual. The front control-dial or side directions of the 4-way controller select among 8 pages of the Camera menu, 4 pages of the Setup menu or the My Menu page. The rear control-dial or vertical directions of the 4-way controller select a particular menu item. To activate an item, the central SET button must be pressed. What makes navigation jumpy is that each page remembers the last item selected on it and changing pages always selects that one.
The rear control-dial doubles as 4-way controller. It has nice positive action when pressing directions and soft detents when rotating. Each cardinal position is assigned a function:
- Up: Enables the selection of ISO, including Auto ISO. Once activated, the front control-dial must be used to set the sensitivity. Within Playback mode though, it brings up a menu with 5 icons: Transfer Between Cameras, Connect to Smartphone, Connect to Computer, Print from WiFi Printer and Upload to Web Service.
- Right: Select between Auto, On, Slow-Sync and Off for the flash. It only works when the popup flash is extended, plus some options are omitted in some modes.
- Down: Enables the front control-dial to select the Focus-Drive and the rear control-dial to choose a Drive-Mode.
- Left: Chooses between Macro or Normal focus.
The last button is DISP found next to the lower right corner of the LCD. It cycles over 3 customizable displays in Capture mode and 4 displays in Playback mode.
The 3.2" LCD is optionally touch enabled with a separate toggle for enabling a Touch Shutter. Touching any point on the display moves the AF point which can be reset by pressing DISP. The screen is double-hinged to tilt downward 45° or upward 180° for selfies.
The bottom of the G3 X has a metal tripod-mount which inline with the physical center of the camera. This is good for balance but not ideal when shooting panoramas. There is also a single sturdy door which covers the combined battery and memory-card compartment.
Canon G3 X Highlights
Sensor-Size: 13 x 9mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|20 Megapixels Ultra Zoom||ISO 125-25600|
|25X Ultra-Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/2000-30s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|Unknown Size Optional EVF||Custom white-balance|
|1 Axis Digital Level||Spot-Metering|
|5.9 FPS Drive, Unlimited Images||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|1920x1080 @ 60 FPS Video Recording||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|3.2" LCD 1.6 Megapixels|
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